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My friend doesn’t stop complaining

February 8, 2017 | By | 7 Replies Continue Reading
How do you handle a friend who is always complaining to you?

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

I have a friend who sees herself as very empathetic and supportive, and someone who listens well and gives great advice. She wants to be a therapist, in fact. But whenever I talk to her, all she does is complain about how exhausting it is taking care of people all the time.

The thing is, I don’t see her as very supportive at all. She never lets me get a word in, always spinning any topic I bring up into something about her, and she never has anything positive to say.

It’s exhausting being around her. She’s so negative and only talks about herself. How do I stop talking to her? And is it okay to voice these concerns, or would that be hurtful and going too far? I don’t want to invalidate her identity or hurt her, but I really think that she needs to work on listening to people if she really wants to help them. And I’m tired of being her go-to person to complain to.

Signed, Sophie

ANSWER

Hi Sophie,

You are absolutely right that helping others requires good listening skills. But in this case, I think it would be most productive to focus on your own relationship with your friend as opposed to her career aspirations.

You are describing a friendship that feels exhausting because your friend doesn’t listen, is self-absorbed, and chronically complains to you. I think you need to take a double-pronged approach:

1) Gently bring this problem to your friend’s attention. Instead of focusing on the nature of her therapeutic skills, per se, or making global statements that will make her defensive, focus on the specifics of your relationship. For example, if she isn’t listening to you, call her on it when it happens. Or if she is berating you for something, tell her know how it makes you feel. Hopefully, she will be receptive to making some small changes, one at a time.

2) If that doesn’t work, you may determine that the friendship is likely to remain draining and unrewarding. You will need to ask yourself if you are you getting any satisfactions from the friendship. Friendships should be mutually satisfying. If this one isn’t, you may want to limit the amount of time you spend with this friend. You may find that she isn’t the type of friend you can depend on as a confidante and that she is more tolerable in small doses.

Hope this helps.

My best, Irene


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Comments (7)

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  1. T says:

    For years I put up with a friend like this. Chronically negative, always pessimistic and never willing to change how she saw anything. It was strange in a way, because she herself realized how awful she sounded at times and even used to say to me “you must get sick of hearing my endless litany of problems!” But it never changed. I used to give what (I thought) was productive and encouraging advice but she never used any of it. She was a big time blamer too, always someone else’s fault for why things would go wrong. Shhe had a very bad habit of talking trash about people to their FRIENDS. How dumb can a smart person be? Of course then they’d turn on her, she ended up with so many people against her. But again, never her fault. I gave up on this friendship finally and it did not end pretty, let’s just say that.

  2. LaurenM says:

    It is a good idea to have a conversation with your friend about her frequent or constant complaining, and of her tendency to negate, minimise or ignore your questions or concerns. An optimal time to have this conversation would be right at the time that this happens, and it would be advisable to do it in gentle, kindhearted and diplomatic manner.

    Some people are not aware that they come across as negative and unpleasant by their habitual, constant complaining; and by essentially ignoring the other person’s concerns and talking excessively about themselves and also by bad- mouthing others. They tend to see the proverbial glass as half empty, rather than half full, thus perpetuating their negativity. Sadly, they may not be aware of the negative effect that this has on themselves and their friends.

    Although it may be a rather daunting task, I think that it would well worth the effort to have this conversation with your friend. It may well be the gentle wake up call that your friend needs to hear in order to bring her on a more even keel in relation to reciprocal, balanced and rewarding friendships.

    Friendships are voluntary and, for the most part, should be rewarding, reciprocal and uplifting. If you have this rather difficult conversation with your friend and she takes offence and indicates to you that she thinks that she is fine as she is and that she is not going to change, then you may have to seriously re-evaluate the friendship, and perhaps decide to keep her at arm’s length and spend much less time with her.

  3. Susan M. says:

    I have been on both sides of this coin. I recently had to be stop being friends with someone who was so negative that I could not take any more! Yes, I did initiate a discussion about it. We even talked about ways she could handle things differently. She was simply not willing (able?) to change her behavior. Everyone needs to vent once in a while. I am talking about constant, unending complaining. I used to EXACTLY like that! Case in point; My best friend (for 20 years) called me one day, and said that a producer from the, “Dr. Phil Show”, had called her about the two of us appearing on the show. This was when the show was fairly new. They were working on a show wherein one friend was really negative, and one was not. My friend had contacted, “The Dr. Phil Show”, about us appearing together and they were interested. I had no knowledge that she had contacted the show. When the producers called her back the second time, my friend let them know that I was aware that I was a negative person, so we were disqualified. They wanted to do a big reveal, with the negative person finding out during the show, that they were negative. Since I already realized that I was negative, they were no longer interested. This was an eye opener for me.

  4. Sandra says:

    Sophie and Irene, thanks so much for posting this question. I’ve got similar situations going on with a few different friends myself, and have been struggling with how to deal with the same problem. How DO we deal with a one-sided conversation — and one-sided friendships? I think this problem is more common than ever now, for some reason. I don’t know if it’s because social media gives people an extended “platform” to talk about themselves nonstop, or what. But whatever the reason, it happens A LOT — maybe an epidemic.

    I like Irene’s answer. I think it’s wise to first make your friend aware that she is dominating the conversations, and not giving you space to share. That’s going to be hard, but if you at least give her a chance to change, it might work.

    But if it doesn’t work, I agree that you should seek out other friends that aren’t draining your life and soul.

  5. Amy F says:

    People don’t always see themselves the way others see them. Becoming a therapist takes years of schooling and internships in luring supervision, so unless you’re in the field, I’m not sure she’d be open to feedback about her career choice. Good friends are honest with each other, so if being around her is exhausting, I think you can find a way to tell her. BUT, what is your goal? Is your goal to keep the relationship but change her? You’ve described three major characteristics that are troublesome, her lack of listening, monopolizing conversations and negativity. That’s a lot of her behaviors you think needs changing, perhaps a good portion of her personality.

    If you say something like, “Sometimes after we hang out I feel exhausted because of XYZ” you might make headway.

    Often, spending less time with an exhausting individual can make her more tolerable.

    Another thought is that negativity and anger can often be a sign of depression, so perhaps your friend is suffering.

    I don’t know whether this friendship is worth the investment of your time an energy. You’ll have to decide.

  6. Ben says:

    A question you may want to ask yourself…. Why is it acceptable to me to have one-sided relationships of any type that are unfulfilling? If you can be really honest with yourself you will see the truth in the axiom “we are responsible for our own happiness.” 🙂

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